Friday, September 3, 2010

The Return

The plane took it's time coming down over LA, almost as though it was giving me a chance to start figuring out how I was going to deal with being back in 美國. I watched the lights form grids and the grids get bigger, and then I saw something odd. There were strange little boxy shapes dotted here and there. At first I thought they were parked cars, but then I saw the highways and the cars whizzing by on them, and the shapes I was seeing were too big to be even semi trucks. I stared at them and tried to figure out what they could be.

I spent the last day in Taipei getting the best of everything that it has been for the last two years. My friend's parents were nice enough to help me deal with my tax information, and then took me to lunch afterward at a little vegetarian buffet. I think they miss having younger children around, because Joyce (her English name) was extra solicitous and took the time to put food on my plate for me if she thought I wasn't taking enough of one thing or the other. They dropped me off at my apartment after lunch, and I got my security deposit back and reassured the landlords that I was indeed planning on leaving, see, that was all my stuff in the bags packed and sitting by the door. They told me I could leave the keys on the desk when I went, since my flight was so late.

So I took the bus over to Jinshan school for the last time. I wanted to drop off some information for one of the classes I had, and once I got there I discovered that my old 1B class was in session (now 2A, of course). I stuck around for the extra five minutes it took them to finish, and I am so very glad that I did. It was a sweet send-off. Amelie saw me and her face lit up and she stuck her head back in the classroom and said, "Miss ROWAN!" Arthur and Sherry and Lianne all piled out and waved, and Lianne leaped on me and hung from my legs like she does, except heavier now than she was last I saw her. We took pictures in the classroom, and Amelie gave me a picture she'd made in school that day. I was touched.

When I left Jinshan, I went through the CKS memorial garden to take the MRT back to my apartment. I fed the fish there, and appreciated the breeze, and watched the dragonflies, and wondered just what kind of reverse culture-shock I'd have coming home. Doors, I thought, that open out consistantly. English everywhere. The lack of the veneer of politeness over everything.

Then I rode the MRT back, stopped in at 1868 to say goodbye to Tiffany, and caught a taxi to the airport. That part took forever. The traffic was appalling. It should have been a 45 minute trip. It took two hours. But I made it in time, and dealt with getting the paperwork for my exit permission, and got my baggage checked. There were three security guys standing chatting at the conveyor belt in TPE, speaking in Chinese about something or other. When I came up to put everything back in my bags, one of them was saying, in Chinese, "I'd rather be a girl than a boy, anyway."為什麼?" I asked. The gentelman in question turned bright red, and stared at me, and covered his face in embarrassment and seemed altogether astonished that I could understand. "你聽得懂中文嗎?" I could. And after that all three of them chatted with me and another one came over and also chatted with me while I was packing everything back up.

At this point I'd been awake for 35 of the last 38 hours, so I was dragging a bit. And then came the 14 hour flight. I got my carry-on stowed and slung myself into my seat. The plane took off, and they served dinner right away, and I ate and passed out. I slept for about 7 hours, and then I watched the inflight movie about the princess of Hawaii, and then chatted with my neighbor, who was a housewife who split her time between LA and Taipei. Then there was another meal, I slept for another two hours, and then we were circling LAX.

I don't know how to express my feelings at being, for all intents and purposes, back. How do you say goodbye to a place that will leave bits of itself in you forever? How do you greet a place that's been yours forever? The smell of the air is different. I can't say how, but it is. It's less humid, certainly, and less close. A man who was clearly American offered to let me go in front of him in a line, and I couldn't remember how to say "Thank you." The man who checked my passport after I re-checked my luggage said, "Welcome back," and I teared up. I miss Chinese already, even though there is more around me than most other places in this country barring the occasional Chinatown. What will my reverse culture shock be like? What forms will it take? I don't know.

The boxy shapes, those were houses.

Monday, August 30, 2010

An Open Letter to Ms. Salticoidea

Dear Ms. Salticoidea,

Recently you and several members of your family came to view my apartment. Perhaps you saw the moving signs and decided to have a look. I want to thank you for your interest. It is truly gratifying to know that the small room I've inhabited for the last year will not be lonely once I've gone.

I wish to correct, however, a minor misunderstanding. I have not yet vacated my home, and am, in fact, still living in it for the next four days. Your enthusiasm is admirable, and I sympathize with your desire to get all the trials of moving over and done with in a timely fashion. I regretfully insist, nevertheless, that you wait to move in with all of your many children until after I have left.

It is true that this apartment, humble though it is, would make a wonderful place to raise a family such as yours. There is a wide variety of cuisine that is likely to appeal to your peculiar tastes quite locally available. The range of edibles for a family like yours is truly impressive, and most of it is so fresh that it is still moving. Your impulse to take advantage of the veritable smorgasboard of ants, mites, and moths abundant in the area is understandable. I assure you, in four days, you can avail yourself of them all.

Nonetheless, in the meantime, I humbly beg you to cultivate patience and refrain from allowing your charming children to run wild in my bathroom.

In highest gratitude for your understanding and forbearance, I am, Madam, sincerely yours.

Monday, July 5, 2010

An Impromptu Lesson In Human Anatomy

In Which There Is Too Much Information

Caught up in the heady whirlwind of the inestimable luxury of summer vacation, when I have three whole days of working in the morning only (I suddenly forget, do college students attend school during the summer? No? What did we do all that time? Oh, that's right, summer jobs), I ventured out this afternoon, after a nap made less restful by the heat, toward the post office, intent on procuring boxes. If my readers are still with me after that appallingly long sentence, let them be aware that it is still 98.6 degrees outside, in the shade, and that I am beginning to feel grateful when the temperature inside falls to 90.

So. Out I went. I passed the orange juice shop, which mostly sells a variant of Tang, and happened to glance down the alley next to it as I walked. It took me a moment to process what I saw.

An older gentleman, perhaps in his late 60s or early 70s, was standing there in this alley perhaps a ten minute walk from Taipei 101, with his shirt lifted up around his armpits and no pants whatsoever. Let me be clear about this. His pants were not hiding somewhere, waiting to spring out at him, he had not laid them aside momentarily in order to facilitate the washcloth bath he was engaged in at the time, they were simply absent. To avoid any other confusion, there were no undergarments present either. He stood there, washing himself down, considerately presenting his back to the street rather than his front, mooning the world. Now, I fully understand the attraction of a cool bath on a hot day, and I was just bemoaning the lack of a lake or an easily accessible pool a few hours ago. Getting naked in an alley in a city with the population density of Taipei (9,588.5/km), though, in the middle of the day... that's over my limit.

Maybe the water from the tanks gets cooler at ground level.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Not A Drop

In Which Culture Shock Comes Late, And Out of Left Field

Let me run through the water system for most buildings here in Taipei for you. For fun, let's do it backwards. You turn on the tap, water comes out. Where does it come from? Some pipes in the walls. So far, so good. Familiar. And where do the pipes get it? They get it from water tanks located on the roof of the building. Usually the water tank in question is metal, at least on the outside, and housed inside a cage of rusty wire mesh that's bolted to the roof. The tanks themselves are not rusty. They are shiny. And metal. Did I mention metal? Now, I don't know off-hand what kind of metal these tanks are made of, but let us consider standing in a suit of armor. Let us consider doing this on a day like today, when the ambient air temperature is 98.6ºF. On the outside of our bodies. Let us consider standing in a suit of armor in 98.6º weather out on the rooftop in the blazing sun.

Is it really any wonder the water that comes out of my tap is hot enough to sterilize canning jars?

I was reflecting on this today as I stepped out of my apartment to buy some food. I had just run the shower over my legs to try to keep them a little cooler when I went outside, but they dried almost immediately, and, of course, the water was warm. I contemplated the warmth of the water while I walked past the public koi pond the local temple keeps, and while I crossed the street, and while I bought my crushed ice and watermelon (with seeds) drink, and I thought of a Gary Larson cartoon I had seen once. Three or four people in tattered clothes struggle across the parched desert to reach an unexplainable drinking fountain in the middle of the sand. The one in the lead pushes the button and says, "Now just hold your horses, everyone. Let's let it run for a minute and see if it gets any colder." I thought of this cartoon, and it hit me, suddenly, there in the middle of the street, about to step into the sushi shop to get my cucumber rolls and bean curd - My God, I thought, none of these people have ever seen The Far Side.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Narcissus Speaks

In Which The Author Does Some Considered Navel-Gazing

I am not, oh readers, a god. I do not have magical energy, I have not attained enlightenment, and I can neither read minds nor fly under my own power. I mention these because they seem to be distressingly common misconceptions. People seem to believe that the things I notice are somehow beyond the capability of a normal mortal to notice, and that the consideration I grant my fellows - by "consideration" I presume they mean "concession to their right to be human" - could only conceivably be achieved by someone who is not (note the illogic here) actually human. Allow me to set the matter straight.

Several doctors have conclusively proven that I am, in fact, human, with human functions both physical and emotional. The odd tendency people have to doubt this is one I frankly find disturbing. I have no doubt that the way I operate in relation to other people is perhaps unusual, but it does not by any means exceed the capacity of ... well, of anyone. In this way, I am not special. I do not glitter with some indefinable enchantment.

Here's why I'm so sure. I am not, in fact, a naturally kind and forgiving person. I'm bitter, I have a propensity for impatience and grudges, I pull toward anger and selfishness like I have a faulty steering wheel. And yet, I do not spend my life being angry. I share nicely with others. I wait for small eternities without reaching to "hide or fade or fix" other people's problems, and I do not snap with the frustration of doing so. I don't ever give up on a person's potential to change. I can move past actions that bother me. I remember striking before thinking, and holding grudges beyond reason, and wishing to be the center of attention at all times and believing I deserved it. I remember not actually being aware that other people mattered. And I also remember the decisions that I made to change that. They're decisions I have to make every day, every minute, and sometimes I forget to make them the right way and I screw up, but they're conscious and deliberate and difficult and often painful.

And that's why I don't much care for accusations of transcendence or flippant praise and awe. I worked for this. A god? That's not giving me enough credit.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Like Riding A Bicycle (But Not How You Think)

In Which I Delve Into The Realms Of The Heart

I haven't written anything on here having much to do with emotions. There are a number of reasons for that. Some of you (if, that is, there are any of you left reading this) think of emotions as the telltale signs of weakness and it has seemed more important to avoid the jeering than to put down an accurate account of the way I'm being affected by the world around me, for example. I initially intended my famigerations to be famigerations and deal only with my perceptions of my new environs, as objectively as I could put them down. And there is a little part of me that has wondered whether my emotions are valid, and whether they're even acceptable as inclusions in a blog I share with whoever wants to read it.

On reflection, though, the above pretensions are - well, pretensions. I've said before that I think of emotions as a valid set of data, so why keep them from my writing? Particularly as I now find myself wanting very much to articulate some of the emotions that have taken hold of me in the last five months. I just don't know if I have the vocabulary to do so.

Better wordsmiths than I have spent lifetimes trying to describe the feeling of being in love, and the truth of the matter seems to be that it is, in fact, everything that all of them have said.

When you're learning to ride a bike, everyone keeps telling you, "Keep your balance! Push the pedals! Have confidence! And you're thinking, "Screw you!" You're thinking "This isn't working. How come I'm not getting it? What's wrong with me? I'm so stupid! Every kid on my block already knows how to ride a bike." And then one day you get on your bike and it just happens. And suddenly all the advice makes sense. You even feel a little stupid for having felt so stupid.

Well. Yes. He got off the plane and it all just fell into place. The last two weeks have slid by like amber beads on a string, clicking into each other and turning the light golden. We were a little worried because we're fairly lucid people and we know our probabilities, and nothing seemed to be going wrong. We were both sick, it's true, with one ailment after another for the majority of his visit, but it didn't matter.

He left yesterday, and the gaping loneliness I expected has been almost completely obliterated by the joy of just knowing he exists. I am ridiculously happy.

Monday, January 25, 2010


In Which The Loyal Readership Is Treated To Another Update

My first semester at Columbia has come to an end, and winter classes have started. The adjective here is little more than a pretty, meaningless description of the time the classes span - last week it got up to the 80s.

I won't see my level 4 and level 1 kids for a month. They'll start 4B and 1B after Chinese new year. They did well this semester - I'm proud of them, and I'm proud of how I did as their teacher. I have a couple of them in my winter class, and it was nice to see them when I walked into the room this morning. It made transitioning to a new class much easier and much friendlier.

I've started taking a tango class here in Taipei, which is an interesting exercise in mixed cultures. It's a great class. The instructors seem to have an incredibly good grasp on both teaching and the dance itself. My boyfriend being in another country as he is, I go by myself. It's mostly ok. People are pretty polite, and for the most part there isn't much ickiness. This is qualified because there has been some recently, with one man who seems to have a different goal than I do. I'm hoping this will not last.

I've slowly been putting up some of the backlog of photos I've got... Bear with me, guys, it's taking a while. The most recent are still from November.